Mastercard & the Power of Stories for Transformation

A World Beyond Cash…

Former Mastercard CEO Ajay Banga’s vision of a “world beyond cash” has resonated across a decade. The concept expanded globally in its call for customers, employees, and executives to imagine a cashless society fueled by digital payments. Banga’s leadership at the helm of Mastercard over 12 years guided the company through strategic, cultural, and technological transformations that exploded its stock price from $30 to $350 per share.

What is the secret behind such successful digital transformations? The answer lies in the stories they tell.

There is more to digital than the technology that captures, stores, and processes data. Digital transformation is as much about technical capability as it is about the people and culture that jump into change and adopt new ways of working.

Most people are not swayed by facts, but by stories. The narratives told in your organization define the innovation and transformation playbook that people tend to follow. These stories encourage the patterns of thinking and daily behaviors that shape a culture that will either accept or reject transformation.

The Influence G.A.M.E.

To compose a narrative that compels transformation, at Outthinker we use a framework called the Influence G.A.M.E. The process was first developed by a group of communication experts at McKinsey & Co., and the digital transformation leaders and researchers we’ve spoken to all shared best practices that align closely with the steps in this framework.

You’ll notice G.A.M.E. is an acronym. Its letters stand for Goal, Audience, Message, and Expression. These four components are the ingredients you need to develop a digital transformation narrative that inspires everyone in your organization.

1. Define your goal

What does digital transformation look like for your organization, and how will you get there? In an interview, Banga referred to a strong strategic goal as a “shining city on a hill.” Establishing this goal with clarity and simplicity will allow everyone in your organization to feel the power and passion of the overall vision and the role that they play in achieving it.

2. Identify your audience

Once you have defined your goal, you must identify the appropriate audience you need to influence. Consider 2008, when Banga and Mastercard leadership found that more than half of payments in the United States were still being made in cash.

Market research uncovered that the largest creator of cash in an economy—30 percent of the total—was the government paying its citizens’ salaries, pensions, social security, and other social benefits. At the same time, two billion people around the world did not have bank accounts to cash those checks. All over the world, money was being misplaced due to theft or check-cashing fees.

Rather than try to address and convince every single individual around the world to shift to digital, Mastercard decided that its audience would be the 30 percent represented by government cash transactions. Soon, government organizations started to deliver benefits and salary payments on Mastercard accounts, powered by digital, and adoption started to spread.

3. Clarify your message

Once you have identified your audience, you will want to craft the right message to share with key stakeholders. In his interview, Banga joked that his original message, “Kill cash,” was received with a negative response from his employees. It was eventually softened to “A world beyond cash,” so that it would be heard across the organization in a positive way.

Your message should be a clear articulation of your strategic goal.

4. Choose the right strategic expression

As you decide how to express your message, consider that you have options available. In India, Mastercard appropriately decided to launch its message around transitioning to digital payments as a digital-only campaign. Using Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube videos targeted at Indian youth, the campaign invited students and young professionals to submit their visions of a world beyond cash.

Instead of demanding a conversion to digital from the top-down, the organization invited multiple stakeholders to imagine what a world without cash would mean for them. The submissions—the elderly grandmother receiving her full social security benefits, the friend who pays you back for lunch without pulling out his checkbook, roommates easily splitting utility bills for their apartment—would mold the stories that inspire digital transformation and engage more people in the transformation effort.


The path to a successful digital transformation begins with an organizational culture that is flexible and responsive to change. The words we choose to use and the stories we tell shape that culture.

A strong digital transformation strategy includes stories that allow your audience to imagine the vision and clearly see where their work fits into the overall goal. Mastering the Influence G.A.M.E. framework by defining a clear goal, knowing your audience and what is important to them, crafting your message, and choosing the right means of expression will set you up to deliver a digital transformation narrative that inspires your organization and invites everyone along on the journey.

Photo by Roger Brown

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